Sunday, November 27, 2005

Malaysia's Abu Ghraib - kill the chook to frighten the monkey

On the Malaysian Police shameful Abu Ghraib incident, where a police personnel was videotaped in the very act of abusing a prisoner, forced to do ear squats after being stripped naked, the Malaysian newspaper New Straits Times has put on a defensive spin for the embattled police. It gave reasons for police conducted ear-squatting-in-the-nude, which would have been laughable if the case was not so serious.

The New Straits Times is well known by Malaysians to be the unofficial organ of the Malaysian government, effectively the major ruling party UMNO. Sometimes it mouths or market-tests UMNO policies, or reports to ameliorate and mitigate UMNO disasters, and spins suchlike stuff. Its article on the reason for the police abuse is one of those propaganda stuff designed to assuage the more gullible or the converted that all has been fine and merely some misunderstanding of police procedures.

And as expected, the police investigation is targeting on the whistle blower and the photographer, instead of what actions should be taken against those responsible. In any decent democracy, the police person who conducted the abuse would have been immediately stood aside while investigations to determine the circumstances of the case are being progressed. But not in Malaysia and especially the Malaysian Police, which is a law unto itself. Instead, the person who revealed the scandal is considered by the police as the traitor and if found, will be severely punished.

Some time ago, an honest fireman, who reported on his boss' misuse of public property (fire brigade equipment and resources) for the latter's own use/interest, was sacked. As the Chinese say, sha ji xia hou or kill the chook to frighten the monkey, meaning in this Malaysian Abu Ghraib's case, punish the whistle blower so severely so that the rest may understand and continue to uphold the code of omerta. This would appear to be the objective of the current police investigation rather than the identification of abuses or misconduct among its personnel.

In typical Malaysian fashion, the Police top brass have bunkered down until the storm is over. This is the way Malaysian culture, politics and governance works. Any criticism of an unlawful act or misconduct is considered as direct criticism of the minister or a senior official, hence the criticisms must be resisted or denied at all cost. The New Straits Times article is a typical spin designed to protect the Minister and the government.

The usual tactic is to deny, justify, bluff away or in the worst case scenario, pretend to investigate, and then delay the required actions until the public eventually forgets about it.

Unfortunately there is no sense of honour in today's Malaysian government unlike those that medieval Japanese upheld, where officials would commit seppuku to make amends for a public or even personal shame, or even those of proper modern democracy where responsible Ministers and senior officials must resign, or at least be sacked by the prime minister.

I have read that in Tenku Abdul Rahman's time, his Education Minister sued the late DR Seenivasegam of the Peoples Political Party (PPP - yes, it was once an opposition party) for calling him corrupt, but when he lost the case, had the common decency to resign.

It's so unlike today's (lack of) sense of honour and morality, where one can virtually witness deep claw marks on the thresholds of the offices of ministers and senior officials as they resist the imperative to go. Unfortunately the former Malaysian PM had tolerated such shameless officials while the present PM seems not to have the nerve to take the necessary actions.

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